by Ian Marshall, Editor
Together quite by chance, sensationally in the penultimate round at the 2018 ITTF World Tour Kaisa China Open they beat the host country’s Ma Long and Xu Xin. The chemistry worked, the partnership was formed and success continued; notably they were runners up at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships in Budapest. They have become one of the most potent men’s doubles pairs on planet earth.
A total of 34 outfits named on the entry list, just nine teams qualify for Tokyo, it is on their shoulders responsibility lies as they head teams that are very much of contrast.
Considering the current world rankings, in the Romanian team, Ovidiu Ionescu, 30 years old, is very much supported by youth; for Alvaro Robles, 28 years of age, it is players for whom veteran status rather than junior level is nearer.
Ovidiu Ionescu lines up alongside Cristian Pletea and Rares Sipos, both 19 years old; Hunor Szocs, 27 years of age completes the selection. Rather differently next in line to Alvaro Robles is 39 year old Carlos Machado and 37 years of age Jesus Cantero. Carlos Franco is aged 26 years.
Both Ovidiu Ionescu and Alvaro Robles have excelled on Iberian Peninsula soil. Notably in Alicante, Ovidiu Ionescu was the men’s singles runner up at the Liebherr 2018 European Championships, one year earlier Alvaro Robles had reached the quarter-final round at the 2017 ITTF Challenge Spanish Open in Almeria.
Now will the best support acts in Gondomar be youth or experience?
At the European Youth Championships in 2014 in Riva del Garda, Rares Sipos won the cadet boys’ singles title. The follow year Cristian Pletea followed suit in Guimarãres, before in 2017 being boys’ singles runner up; furthermore, at the Europe Top 10, he won the cadet boys’ title in 2014 in Tours and in the ensuing year in Buzau, the junior title in 2017 in Worcester and again in 2018 in Vila Real.
Meanwhile, in the Romanian team, Hunor Szocs has a European Youth Championships claim to fame; in 2010 in Istanbul he partnered Denmark’s Jonathan Groth to junior boys’ doubles gold.
Now how does that compare with the venerable Spaniards?
Carlos Machado has ITTF World Tour success to his name; he was the men’s singles runner up in 2009 in Rabat and in 2013 in Olomouc. In that respect he is the most successful Spaniard being one of only three from the country to reach such a final; likewise He Zhiwen was the runner up in 2007 in Austria, Marc Duran in 2013 in Egypt.
Equally, Jesus Cantero, the only high level European pen-hold grip player in the traditional style of using one side of the racket only, is a most dangerous adversary; most creditably he was the men’s singles runner up in Tarragona at the 2018 Mediterranean Games.
Not to be left out, Carlos Franco has yet to shine on the ITTF World Tour or at a Challenge Series tournament but in 2017 at the Luxembourg Open, he was a quarter-finalist.
Peak of careers
Most worthy support but it is to Ovidiu Ionescu and Alvaro Robles on whom Romanian and Spanish eyes focus, both players who may well be considered at the peak of their careers; in Gondomar they set the example and with doubles the first match in a fixture, their skills in that discipline could prove crucial.
Just one problem, they are apart, not together.